Friday, November 11, 2011


Go Veterans, It's Your Day-Ay!

"There are approximately 25 million veterans in America today, according to the Vietnam Veterans of America, plus about 37 million dependents of living and deceased veterans. Together, they compose about 20 percent of the United States."
Good put together an interesting, shocking (20%!), and sometimes sad list of "Eight Interesting, Shocking, or Sad Things Your Should Know About Our Veterans."

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Shout-out to the vets we know! My dad, my brother, my buddies in USMC, Army, Coast Guard- thank you for all you did and all you still do.
(Also, if you folks wanted to check out the Wounded Warrior Project and/or IAVA, I know they'd appreciate it.)


I read a story last night on Yahoo News about a man who claimed his boss asked him to take off the Remembrance poppy (in Australia it's called Remembrance Day, not Veteran's Day) he was wearing because his coworkers said it was offensive as it glorified war. I personally thought the story was bullshit, because I didn't think anyonre thought that about honoring veterans... What do you think, Hairpinners?


@iceberg Wow, never would have thought that at all. The people I know who are either serving or have served in the armed forces take the view that war isn't something to be glorified, it's a last resort. And I respect that they're the people who are willing to step up when we get to that last resort.


@Ophelia Right? Also, I think you can mourn losses without necessarily celebrating the reason why the losses happened.


@iceberg Plus, even if you do want to push an anti-war agenda (which, is where, frankly, I lean), remembering what it really costs, in terms of human life, to wage a war is really, really important.


@iceberg: Since you asked, I get weary of the "support our troops" mantra in this country because I feel it legitimizes our readiness to invade other countries, our huge defense spending ($700B; China is closest to us at $114B) and a certain enthusiasm for violence. The honor of serving in an invasion force is lost on me.

I also think, as shown in some of the stats in the linked slideshow, it rings pretty hollow given our inability or unwillingness to meet the needs of veterans. We don't actually support our troops all that well. They deserve better.


@laurel Those are good points, I think I agree with everything you said! I guess to me the poppy is more about the World Wars rather than the more recent ones? Is that dumb?


@iceberg Well personally some of the rhetoric surrounding the wearing of poppies here in the UK doesn't sit very well with me. People talk of wearing them with "pride" etc, which seems to contradict what I originally thought the poppy was all about - remembering the horror of a generation of men being sent to die in the First World War because of a clash of empires. That doesn't make me proud, it makes me sad. I also saw a few obnoxious "cut and paste" type statuses on Facebook saying "Does my poppy offend you? Then get the hell out of this country".
This did make me hesitant to wear one this year, but then I decided it would be a shame to let the pro-war nationalist types claim the poppy. And thankfully, I think they are a minority and most people wear them out of simple rememberance and respect. Point is I guess, everyone wears one for their own reasons, so of course I agree that banning them is ridiculous.


I think Blackadder said it best. "Rather hoped I'd get through the whole show. Wrote a single diary entry on the way over here. It's just: 'bugger.'"


@laurel @thechouxbrunette Yeah, there is a big split, I think, in the way that people who actually fight in wars think about war, and the way those who push the hard-core nationalistic rhetoric/groupthink think about it.


@iceberg: I don't think it's dumb at all. I think the poppies are such a lovely symbol of remembrance and a subtle hint at, I don't know, something softer and healing (and I don't mean just morphine!). They honestly make me a little teary-eyed.

My feelings about honoring veterans are contradictory, I admit. I want the actual humans to be cared for and appreciated--I hate that we're not hearing anything about the wars in the media at all--but I'm sick of so much of our national resources going toward pointless violence.

Why is we can mobilize all this money and public support to invade Iraq on what were obviously false premises but can't get our shit together on sustainable energy policy or education or whatever? I think it's, at least in part, because we romanticize military service.


@thechouxbrunette Being a Culture and Memory person as I am, I associate Veteran's Day in the US and Armistice Day in the UK with all that really awful horrible bad traumatic WWI Horribleness.

I am glad people still wear poppies, because someday pretty soon WWI will pass out of living memory. It's not a nice thing to remember, but it's important, and people who were alive to experience it remember it in an important, different way than those of us who were born way after.


@laurel My granddad, a WWII & Korean War Marine vet, cannot stand those yellow ribbons on cars and hollow calls to "support our troops." He always goes off about how if people really thought that they would donate to organizations that provide medical, mental health & monetary support for veterans and their families.


@julia: I like independent thinkers like your grandad.

And also, because this issue is fraught and complex, I give you this.


@julia I am intrigued by your granddad's ideas and would like to subscribe to his newsletter.

@laurel I absolutely think that we romanticize military, and it is a problem amongst military family members too. The whole let's beat our breasts with pride for what our families have done for this country. I am way proud of my Dad and others who served but does it mean that it was right to send them? Can't we be proud of them for their bravery but also question the rationale behind their service? Just, like, let's stop and THINK about what we are actually doing in Iraq/Afghanistan. And I know that so much of the "support our troops" rah-rah attitude is a direct consequence of our horrible reaction to the troops coming off deployment during Vietnam; but these kids aren't dumb, they know our support for them is hollow. Blergh.


@DrFeelGood: @DrFeelGood: I can't blame military families for their pride. It's always the poor and recent immigrants and denigrated minorities who go to war first. Given what so often happens to young people in poverty in this country I understand why families hold the idea of service--and the training and access to resources it provides--in reverence.

Also, can you imagine sending your gangly, slouchy, pimply, sullen, grubby teenager off to bootcamp and then see them return all standing up straight and yes, sir and in uniform? Parents must be giddy.


@laurel That's a good point and I can understand why parents may feel that way. The problem I see now is that the training and access to resources it once provided are now pretty much non-existent. People don't like hiring veterans anymore, our federal gov't included. These families should be thinking about what it means to join-up, so I'm sympathetic but pride is only obscuring the real issues of what are these people going to do when they get home.


@iceberg I don't think it glorifies war at all. To me, wearing a poppy has always been a symbol to remind people of those who fought and died for our freedom. War is a terrible thing, I dont' think that wearing a poppy is somehow glorifying war at all. Not only that but here in Canada every cent that people donate when they buy a poppy goes straight to our veterans. It's not a lot of money but at least it supports them.


@thechouxbrunette There are white poppies that represent remembrance and peace, some people wear them along with the red poppy: https://secure5.positive-internet.com/~janmel/buypoppy.html

Lily Rowan

I'm surprised the "descendants" number is that low, honestly.

Tuna Surprise

Shout out to my dad (Vietnam Vet) and all his buddies in the Army's 25th Infantry Division! The 25th is still deployed in Iraq and Afganistan. Here's hoping everyone gets home safe.


And don't forget about military spouses! Suicide is becoming a quiet epidemic among military spouses as well. If you know someone who is married to a servicemember, thank them for their service as well. And if their spouse is deployed, offer to buy them a coffee (or a stiff drink), help babysit their kids, run errands, etc.


Dad is a Vietnam vet. He was reluctantly military (draft) and I think a lot about today and our voluntary military and it's unintended consequences. We have been in Iraq longer than WWII now, yet it doesn't even seem to be on the national radar, I certainly feel no hardship in my day-to-day life because of it. The only time I am reminded of it is when I am on a military base with a family member, and there is no active duty personnel in sight. If Congressmen and Congresswomens' son's and daughters were being conscripted - would we still be engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan?

So yes, thanks to our Veterans, and let's think long and hard about the necessity of war.


For those 'pinners involved in higher ed, some thought-provoking data on the presence (or, rather, absence) of vets at selective colleges and universities: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/11/11/essay-annual-count-veterans-elite-college-campuses


@MerelyGoodExpectations I am really sickened by our attitude towards veterans. Throw them a few days of "celebration" and "remembrance" and cry about the horrors of war; but meanwhile, Vets have some of the highest rates of untreated PTSD, traumatic brain injury, homelessness, addiction, and our veteran's hospitals are a fucking disgrace. Add to that, kids who think that they'll get job training from the military (worked for my Dad), and they're now coming home to about ~15% unemployment rates for young vets.


@MerelyGoodExpectations Not to take away from the point of the article (which I agree with, on the whole), but I think what the article does fail to address is the fact that, when there are general studies course options available, veterans are clearly taking advantage of them. And I wonder whether those programs are attractive because they allow for flexibility with work and family that a traditional undergrad curriculum might not (respecting the fact that not all veterans necessarily have jobs/families, they do represent an older demographic that might find this flexibility appealing). Looks like it's not only a question of admitting more veterans, but of creating ways for older students to take advantage of higher education as a whole.

edited to add: AND, I think that there needs to be consideration placed on veterans as a specific subset of higher ed; realized that might not come through in the post.


@Ophelia I think it's also a question of socio-economic status. When you have voluntary service, you'll have a greater proportion of kids who can't afford (even with aid and grants) to go to a traditional University or College, and so the more part-time degree/training programs would be more attractive and affordable.

Lily Rowan

@Ophelia There's a whole thing about veterans and for-profit colleges that was on Frontline semi-recently, too -- they can get all of this federal aid, but very few of them actually graduate.


@DrFeelGood: Watch the unemployment rate after the Iraq withdrawl. I think part of the reason we stayed so long was because no president or congress wants to be in power when our huge force comes home to no jobs.


@DrFeelGood Agreed. There is no way that you can pay tuition at some of the schools on the list in that article using only GI Bill funding. I'd be really curious to see the numbers of veterans at highly-ranked state schools, where tuition is far more reasonable.

@Lily Rowan That does raise the whole question of for-profit colleges writ large, too - there are some big problems lurking there, as well. Will definitely look up the Frontline thing.


@Ophelia I absolutely agree with you. And my personal experience suggests that the institutions on the list aren't doing such a hot job attracting and retaining older students of any stripe. But when one of the military's major marketing pitches is "money for college," I think those of us on the "college" end of things have a special duty to look closely at how the kind of programs and options we offer vets might be complicit in maintaining and producing a system in which the front lines of the military are staffed proportionality by kids from working class backgrounds or people of color, and where post-secondary education is increasingly a two-tier system, with a traditional liberal arts or pre-professional program for an elite, and a much more catch-as-catch-can system for the rest.

I get worked up about this issue, in particular, because so many of these schools have made great strides in the last ten or fifteen years when it comes to racial, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity. From this standpoint, qualified vets are exactly who the schools on Sloane's list should be hoping to attract.


@Ophelia (in response to your later comment) True about the GI bill thing, but a number of these schools also meet 100% of demonstrated financial need (increasingly, with grants rather than with loans). If you're, say, at Stuyvesant High School in NYC, a rep from Princeton is going to come in and make that very clear. You're less likely to receive that message, I'd imagine, as an infantryman at Ft. Benning.


@MerelyGoodExpectations Also, that should be "disproportionately staffed"


@MerelyGoodExpectations It also goes to the way I think a lot of people in the US think about higher education at all. The divide (at least on the rhetorical front) about people who "do" things, and people who "think about" things is huge. Bringing together veterans (and other older students that bring practical experience) to liberal arts curricula would really do a lot to helping people understand why it is that understanding moral philosophy is important if you're going to run a business, or why it matters that an English major understands what it means to work 9-5. Allowing this divide to continue is easier than surmounting it, but irresponsible to our future as a country, and to the students who are part of the system.

Oversimplification, I realize, but...

Edited to add: good point on the financial aid front. I also think that means schools (and maybe the armed forces themselves) need to do a better job of helping veterans navigate access to that aid.

Lily Rowan

@Ophelia At least from my 20-minute education on the subject, the for-profit schools do an EXCELLENT job of getting people to access all of the aid they are eligible for. And then a much less excellent job of ensuring that the students get a decent education that leads to employment....

Here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/educating-sergeant-pantzke/


@Lily Rowan Urgh. SMDH.

Also, can I just say, this is the best internet conversation about military service I have ever had the pleasure to be part of? Of course, I should expect no less from the Hairpin, but still. Awesome.


@Ophelia I've been thinking about this lately because where I work, we have an Army ROTC program. And it seems like *those* students, whose college education is going to benefit the military, and who are more traditional college-student-aged? They get a whole lot of support.

So it's not like the armed services and universities don't know how to successfully work together to get students graduating from college.

I'd be interested to know if there were transferable things going on there that would work for vets.

And I have no answers, I just started to think about it recently.


I'm enlisted, and I spent time in ROTC before that, so I've dealt with pretty much all of the AF's financial aid programs. There's alot of money available, but it can be a pain to get it. Especially if you don't want to go to the college on base, or one of the for profit ones that will spoon feed you all the paperwork.

Part of the problem is, you combine kids that come from a background that doesn't value education, and then put them in a system where they work weird hours, and aren't encouraged to stand up for themselves/ ask for things, then add a whole lot of paperwork, and it can be tough for them to find the will to go to school. It's daunting.

As an NCO, I make sure I talk about going to school, and all the paperwork, so that my airmen know that if they have questions, I'm a good resource. Also, being a good role model and whatnot.

In the military's defense, the AF taught me how to fix airplanes (which, if you can get a union job, pays pretty well) and then later sent me for 18 months of intensive Arabic. That, plus my clearances and supervisory experience means I'll have good job prospects.

On the other hand, the kids that do four as in infantryman, half of it in the desert, have no time to go to school, and when they get out, have no marketable skills. And alot of 18 years olds don't consider what training they're going to get when they join- they want the "cool" jobs.

Some thoughts. There's things I'd like to see done better, but the military can be a fantastic way to pull yourself up if you have the temperament to handle the BS.


1) My dad is an example of the best the US Airforce has to offer, and I am thinking about him right now.

2) My key Veteran's Day go-to thing is this quote from Paul Fussell, from the Ken Burn's documentary The War:

Eisenhower, on D-Day morning distributed to the troops a general order, which is like a handbill, and everybody read it. And he said “we are about to embark upon the great crusade, which we have been preparing for, for many months” etc.

Now at first none of us could believe it was anything like a crusade, because we were playing dice, and we were thinking about girls all the time and getting drunk as possible and so forth. It wasn’t like a crusade, there was not religious dimension to whatever. When they finally got across France and into Germany, and saw the German death camps, they realized that they had been in engaged in something like a crusade, although none of them called it that. And it all began to make a kind of sense to us.

I’m not sure that made it any better. It may have made it worse. To see that it was actually conducted in defense of some noble idea.
-- Paul Fussell

And here is a link to Joe Medicine Crow, anthropologist, WWII Veteran, descendant of Medicine Crow, one of Custer's scouts, and all around adorable guy, discussing how he completed four war deeds. Note when he says "my ears were opened," which is not an accidental phrase.


My point is, I guess, such as the point may be, that thinking about war from a vet's POV as much as possible is what Veteran's Day is for, to me. All the Support Our Troops/ Nationalism/ Jingoism Rah Rah is not what it is about, for me. Especially since veteran's narratives show you that what war means to them is conflicting and complicated.


@AnthroK8 Great thoughts. My dad is another example of "the best" of the Navy, graduated college, was drafted, reached Captain in the Naval Reserves when I was a kid and spent his entire career (except for the summer before his draft notice) working for the Military, either in active duty, or in civil service. He has always been very quiet regarding his service, and I am still not sure of his thoughts regarding Vietnam.

I have no disrespect for what the military can do for an individual; unfortunately, I see the way our family is/was treated and the way the new Veterans are treated. There are way less services and benefits offered to Veterans these days, additionally the career path from Active Duty to Civil Service is not as easy as it once was. It paved the path for my Dad to support a family very well, and he and my Mom will be very well taken care of (free health care, pension, free prescription meds) by the Military Veterans' Affairs office until they both die. This is no longer the case. Health services, benefits and all sorts of other things that were once such great benefits to being a Veteran are being dismantled.


@DrFeelGood Here is what I know about my dad's perspective on Vietnam. It's a comment he made when his union made some concession in negotiations, and then emailed all the union members to tell them is was A Great Victory.

"The last time I heard something was A Great Victory, I was lying flat in a rice paddy waiting for the helicopters to come get us out of there... and there was no damn parade when we got home."


Not to take away from the original message but I've always found it strange how in the US this day still seems more celebratory whereas in Canada it's very sombre as we look back at the sacrifices that were made for our freedom.


@coconuts Agreed. I'm in the US but I've always found it weird when people say things like "Happy Veterans Day!" because it seems like it should be a much more thoughtful, serious holiday.


Dumb question: Veterans are pretty much people who have gone to war or served a long time in the military, right? I ask because on Facebook today I saw a guy make a post thanking our "veterans" and then tagged a bunch of people who I know for a fact enlisted only within the last year or two (and have not actually gone to Iraq or anything). And that seemed incorrect to me. But then I thought...maybe I'm the one that's mixed up? Help!


@KeLynn my BF's father who served very active duty in Vietnam says anyone is a veteran who has served, doesn't matter if they saw combat or not. If they are currently in the military, I don't think they count as vets since they are servicemembers - but I guess your friend probably wants to give his in-service peeps some of the glow.


@KeLynn There is no standard definition, but a lot of veterans' benefits (in the U.S.) are afforded to anyone who has served for at least 180 consecutive days. It's very much understood within our military that the term "veteran" applies to anyone who has served (really even including those who are still in).

fondue with cheddar

@KeLynn I always thought veterans were those who served during wartime, regardless of whether or not they saw combat. The fact that we have three completely different answers shows how NOT dumb of a question it is!


@jen325 phew I do feel less dumb to see all the different answers...but to be honest I still feel weird to hear someone calling these guys (who are probably still in training) veterans, whether it's correct or not!

fondue with cheddar

@KeLynn That's understandable. Why don't you ask some of them if they consider themselves veterans? In this context, that's the answer that really matters most.

Hyperbolic Heather

I was in the Marine Corps for 5 years, 7 months of which were spent in Iraq. Every time I am thanked for my service, I feel awkward and undeserving. And every single year, on the Marine Corps birthday (November 10th) and Veterans' Day, I cry multiple times and get weirdly nostalgic over everything. I have no idea what my point is. I think my point is this: my war-hating, peace-loving, American-foreign-policy-and-defense-budget-loathing eyes are totally capable of (and habituated to) crying over anything and everything related to veterans. Wait, that was a totally nonsensical point. I don't know. Also, I have the t-shirt those guys were wearing, Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Hyperbolic Heather

In conclusion, veterans make me cry and temporarily love America.

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